Since 2010, fans of Freeform’s pride and joy ‘Pretty Little Liars’ have experienced the journey of one of, if not the most highly anticipated LGBTQ+ ships on American television — the romance between main characters Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) and Alison Dilaurentis (Sasha Pieterse). Emison, as the fans and cast have dubbed the couple, took seven years to officially get together.
June 8, 2010, to May 30, 2017, to be exact.
Okay, maybe that isn’t exactly seven years, but nevertheless, that’s a long time, and even longer for the characters in the show’s timeline.
The famous complex dynamic between Emily the selfless swimmer and Alison the queen bee over the seasons is one that involved a high school unrequited crush, Alison’s death which wasn’t really a death because she came back years later, the constant looming presence of their stalker (the show’s villain, A.D.), many near-death experiences for the both of them, and a genetic rape courtesy of the said stalker by way of an artificial insemination without consent. Yes, no one is kidding around when they say ‘Pretty Little Liars’ is one wild show. And that isn’t all, but you get the point — these girls have been through a lot.
In the midst of the gruesome murders and quiet deception in the town of Rosewood, all the central couples have still managed to talk about their feelings and pursue their romance in early seasons. All of them… except Emison (Ezria, Haleb, Spoby; see official timelines), which is especially frustrating because the girls have been having an intense romantic tension building up in the PLL timeline even before the first episode. The two girls have spent a majority of the show emotionally circling each other, from kissing to hooking up on spread apart instances and then never discussing it afterward.
However, on May 30, 2017, after seven years of small interactions that the fans call “being fed crumbs,” Emison shippers finally saw the light (just four episodes before the series finale) when Alison finally said “I love you” to Emily, and admitted her past relationships have failed because she always has.
Let’s do some math! Since the start of their relationship by way of the “I love you” in season 7 episode 16, and being confirmed as endgame, and the end of the series being season 7 episode 20, this means Emison only has episodes 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 as a couple. Five episodes. Out of the show’s whopping 160.
But Emison’s timid nature around each other when it comes to discussing their feelings isn’t the problem here – the blatant queerbaiting done by the show’s writers is.
Emison is known for having the fiercest fandom of all the PLL ships, always seen trending worldwide on Twitter.
Twitter fights, especially in past years, were often caused between fans and other fans, and even fans and writers. But the motivation behind the aggression is irritation from all the times they were promised something – whether it be a talk about feelings or a sign that ship even exists at all — and never got it. The knowledge of the passionate and large fandom was exploited with empty promises for episode views — queerbaiting.
Below are the receipts from Twitter in a convenient collage made by Tumblr user ruslipservice titled “Queerbaiting. A collage.” (It’s a little hard to read on this article but the previous link and clicking on the image can help.)
The queerbaiting was mainly done by the executive producer and showrunner of the show, Ina Marlene King. This is especially looked down upon by the fandom as a whole because King happens to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself. Typically the cycle goes like this – the Emison fans beg for a sign to keep faith in their ship, King or another show writer says something cryptic like “Soon.” or to wait until episode ___, then nothing significant happens. See the collage for specific examples.
LGBTQ+ fans of the ship everywhere were especially insulted when King infamously referred to Emily and Alison’s dynamic as a “romantic friendship.” This term has several bad connotations, mainly stemming from its origins decades ago as being used to describe a “socially acceptable” alternative to homosexuality.
And although King has stated recently, after the couple got together officially, that Emison was always the endgame plan, the journey through the seasons was at the very least, painful and irritating for a fan. The real question is… Were all the years worth it?
Some may say yes, others may say no, but there are still two more episodes to go. Cast members, including Shay Mitchell and Sasha Pieterse themselves, have vocalized that they think everyone will be happy with the series finale.
But one thing is for certain, after all the trouble, Emison and their fans deserve their happy ending.